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July 31. 2013 10:57PM

Manchester Mayor Gatsas: Hooksett kids likely to stay in city schools

MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas said Wednesday that he expects that most Hooksett students will remain in Manchester high schools, while his main election opponent said the deal worked out between the two communities does not address underlying problems in the district.

Manchester and Hooksett school boards have OK'd a five-year deal that ends legal actions from both school districts about where Hooksett high school students will attend school. (See related story, Page B1.)It allows 74 Hooksett students who have signed up for schools outside Manchester to remain there. And it requires Manchester to take Hooksett students while scuttling a requirement that Hooksett send its students to the city schools.

"I think the opportunity for us to continue the educational relationship with Hooksett that we've had for 120 years is the foundation of this agreement," Gatsas said Wednesday.He said only six Hooksett students who were enrolled in Manchester schools last year opted out for the upcoming school year.

"I don't think a majority of Hooksett kids are going to want to leave," Gatsas said.

But Gatsas' main election opponent, Ward 12 alderman Patrick Arnold, said the agreement does nothing to address the teacher layoffs and overcrowded classrooms that prompted Hooksett to exit its long-standing agreement with Manchester.

"This agreement doesn't address any of these underlying concerns that caused them to exit," he said. Arnold said he will be addressing the concerns about Manchester education highlighted in the curriculum audit of Manchester schools, which was released in June.

Gatsas responded that the Manchester school board unanimously approved the deal with Hooksett, which means it must be a step in the right direction.

The deal does mean money for Manchester:

• It keeps this year's tuition rate at $8,500 per student but raises tuition rates by nearly $2,000 for the 2014-15 school year — to $10,200.

• Tuition rates would increase roughly $200 a year in subsequent years.

• It guarantees $781,000 a year for the next five years, representing brick and mortar improvements Manchester made to Central and West high schools with the anticipation of Hooksett enrollments.

• It adds a $100,000 payment from Hooksett to Manchester for the next two years.

Last year, about 549 Hooksett students attended Manchester high schools, most of them at Central and West."It's one more step out the door for Hooksett," said Jim O'Connell, leader of Citizens for Manchester Schools. But he noted the Manchester school board has adopted a policy of no more than 30 students to a class, and political and business leaders now realize city schools need additional attention."We've got a year to prove to the people of Hooksett that Manchester's the best option," O'Connell said.

In an interview, Gatsas dismissed any notion of a mass exodus of Hooksett students starting in 2014-15.

One provision calls for Manchester and Hooksett to make a good-faith effort to negotiate an agreement that would allow Hooksett students to continue attending Manchester schools after 2018.

Gatsas said the provision does not prevent Hooksett from signing deals with other school districts.

"It leaves an opening for the two school districts to continue a relationship, with an opt-in decision for parents in Hooksett," said John Avard, who represents Ward 10 on the school board.

Ben Dick, the president of the Manchester teachers' union, said he wants to see Hooksett students at least given the opportunity to remain in Manchester. He called them valuable.

"Anything we can do to keep them with us in any way, shape or form benefits the district," Dick said.

But he cautioned against an open-market approach that would allow Hooksett parents to switch students from one school to another. Such upheaval would not be good for a student, he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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